CAIR Brings Communities Together with Art


Courtesy Um Fuad

CREATIVITY AND IDENTITY: The second annual American-Muslim Art Exhibit took place on March 31, put on by the Council for American-Islam Relations—Missouri.

American-Islam Relations-Missouri (CAIR-MO) held the second annual Creativity and Identity: An American-Muslim Art Exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum, displaying contemporary Muslim art in a variety of mediums. “Art is the international language used by all peoples, cultures and religions to share with the world who they are, what they believe and inspire beauty,” executive director of CAIR-MO Faizan Syed said.

Syed and Pakistani-American sisters, Sadia and Yusra Ali, organized and curated the event. Yusra Ali created the exhibit to increase representation for Muslims in the art world. She studies Islamic sciences at the Al salam Institute and Cambridge Islamic College in the United Kingdom, interns at CAIR-MO and aspires to be an art therapist and an author.

The event was empowering for Muslim women; this year, twice as many artists showcased their work, almost three dozen, 28 of whom are women. The show included furniture, homemade soap, jewelry, painting, printmaking and textiles, while voices performed live comedy, poetry, speeches and spoken word. It elevated families as well, providing a space for children and their parents, and making it accessible for artists who are also mothers. St. Louis Gyros provided white rice, halaam gyro meat, salad, hummus and chips. Prayer rugs were on the floor, allowing Maghrib, the sunset prayer, to be practiced as a community.

“We also have interactive art booths where guests were able to get henna art, see live Arabic calligraphy, purchase spray painted t-shirts and even order some delicious pancake art.

We had several live performers as well during the exhibition, and don’t get me started on the food. We’re Muslims after all and we can’t have guests come into a space without feeding them,” Syed said. According to their website, CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice and empower American Muslims.

Ameer Khan is studying bioelectrical engineering at St. Louis University. She interns at CAIRMO and volunteered at the show. Khan explains CAIR’s mission as, “Providing legal services for Muslims and immigrants who have been discriminated against, provide legal tips for the Muslim community on how to interact with law enforcement and the media and also build community with other partners such as local MSAs (Muslim Student Associations), Christian and Jewish communities in St. Louis and other civil rights organizations such as ACLU and PROMO.”

The event showcased not only art, but also the personal stories and struggles which led the artists to create. It gives a platform for people to express themselves, coming from the rich artistic traditions of Islam. This results in a bridge for understanding and a way for voices to be heard that aren’t often promoted.

“The Muslim community is just as artistic as any other community, if not more so because of our rich and diverse history. You can easily think of the architecture of the Ottomans in Spain and Turkey, but the extent of Muslim art is so much more than that — you have Iranian art and mosques, African-Muslim art, Chinese Muslims practicing woodwork, and of course, here we have a distinct flavor of American- Muslim artwork that has value and insight into the Muslim-American experience. Microaggressions, social justice and God all blend into one cohesive narrative that the rest of America can really take a few lessons from,” Khan said.

Within the artists’ diverse styles, mediums and countries of origin comes interwoven American-Muslim identities, and the desire to live authentically and without fear Yusra Ali said to the Riverfront Times, “When you see someone’s art, it’s not as easy to be afraid of them. You can see something of them in their art, and you can see a little bit of your own reflection in it, because you’re American, and the art is American.”